28 Feb 2010

Who buys brands anyway?

Really. Who does?

Think of the last time you time you brought a 'brand' as against buying a function? Now contrast that against every time you spent your hard-earned money. How do they stack up? 2(function):1(brand)? 5:1? 10:1? Or worse?

Are the millions spent on beer and toilet paper - from multimillion dollar SuperBowl Commercials to Social Media Apps - paying back any dividend? Anything at all?

Here's what I think...

In today's scenario the consumer no longer respects products and services as superior or inferior - it is accepted that there is near uniformity in function. From SUVs to LCD TVs, the 'brand' is no longer as deep a differentiator for an educated consumer. (Alarmingly, he's the one who's likely to be most brand-conscious!) Out-sourcing put the nail-gun to that notion. Today, a GMC doesn't embody larger-than-life American values - any more than a Sony does nifty Japanese technology.

And from insurance to pharmceuticals, international trade regulations make sure that any product is uniformly exploitative across the world, regardless of the 'brand'.

So on what parameters do we as consumers base our buying decisions? The startling answer to that, I think, is that we largely base it on nothing more than availability and price.

Welcome to the commodification of everything!

Where does that leave the Advertising industry? Well, there can be precious little to differentiate advertising done for products and services that have precious little differentiation to advertise.

So where do brands go from here... In my next post.

22 Feb 2010

Why a creative ad isn't necessarily a good ad

(Unless, by good you mean effective.)

By definition, advertising is a communication (i.e. THE MESSAGE) which attempts to convince people that a particular product, service or point-of-view (i.e. THE BRAND) has a quick / easy / convenient / critical solution for a real or percieved problem that affects them (i.e. THE CONSUMER BENEFIT).

In my opinion, if it is persuasive for someone with the problem, it may be called 'creative' advertising. If it appeals to anyone without the problem (award juries included), it isn't advertising.

On this point, I think it's critical that advertising be 'sold' to the client. (But not hard-sold, mind you.)

Let me explain...

For the few minutes that a client views a proposed advertising (campaign or otherwise), he needs to think like his consumer. Not as the agency's client. He will need to see how it will or will not be persuasive from the consumer's point-of-view.

That is no easy task. If it was, he'd able to write the ad.

That is why, it is essential to re-run the background and the rationale for a particular approach. Then we may reveal the 'creative' to the eyes of a stand-in consumer. But too often, advertising is done to impress the client, and not to persuade the consumer.

Another thing that happens way too often is 'creative' being hard-sold to the client. The only thing it will succeed in doing is make the client suspect your motive - or worse, your competence.

17 Feb 2010

'A' for Apple. Not.

There's something uncannily consistent about Apple's advertising. And I'm not talking about layouts or typefaces or 'creativity'. I really can't put my finger on it... but the tone of their advertising somehow has never seemed artificial. They've always had a lot to say. Earlier, in words - but lately, it's been more visual... An result of Apple's 'evolving' audience, I suppose. (I'll come back to that.)

But there are no half-measures, no superficial attempts in their products - or their advertising. In 1984, they bought out all the advertising space in a special issue of Newsweek; released 20-page ads in major magazines; and handed-out Macs to 200,000 people to 'test drive' for 24-hours! That year, they sold 2 million Apple IIs.

Apple's tone brims with self-confidence verging on we-don't-give-a-damn brashness. In August 1981, when International Business Machines introduced the IBM Personal Computer, Apple greeted it with this full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal.

(Please read it to fully appreciate the forward-looking message.)

Apple's actions feel truly we-know-how-it-feels sincere. Be it initiatives like the Apple Placement Center that helped find new jobs for 90% of the 1200 employees laid-off during a 're-organization' in 1985. Or a year later, in April 1986, when Apple moved out its advertising from Chiat/Day and released this ad.

(Again, you'll need to read it to fully appreciate the sentiment.)

And Apple's attitude shows idealism verging on we-will-change-the-bloody-world lunacy. It makes even their failures look like spectacular feats of over-confidence that are ahead of their time - not like bad ideas to begin with! These are two such...

From 1991. (Click and enlarge to see a neat surprise on the headline.)

From 1997. (Click and enlarge to temporarily lose control of lower-jaw.)

Whatever it is, Apple's advertising and brand image seems to be working very well indeed. Today, with the iPod and iPhone, they have moved from appealing to merely the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, and the troublemakers who 'think different' - to becoming the must-have instrument of self-actualisation for the self-centred, narcissistic wannabe on every street corner.

Is there more eccentricity and genius amongst us today? Or has Apple simply become the new cool? And how long before it becomes too trendy, too ubiquitous, too big, boardroom-oriented, and too profit-focused to stand up to the lofty ideals of '1984' and 'Think Different'?

But no matter where Apple Inc. is headed, it leaves in its wake a rich legacy in advertising... I recommend every advertising professional, real or imagined, to pay a visit to (or homage at) the 'Mac Mothership'. We may learn something. Seriously.

P.S: I almost forgot the pin-up for Apple fanboys. (Click it for enhanced pleasure.)

16 Feb 2010


LOGORAMA... It was appartently NOMINATED AT THE 2010 OSCARS (March 7th) for BEST SHORT FILM (Animated).

Watch it. Enjoy it. Just don't try and make sense of it!

(The film was directed by the French animation collective H5, François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy + Ludovic Houplain.)

14 Feb 2010

The Creative Cheat Sheet by Dave Birss

Dave Birss is the Digital Creative Head at OgilvyOne, London.

And if you are allergic to presentation slides... read it in paragraph form here.

Dave has got a few Rules. Good as any I've read.

Better than porn

Well, almost. But click it anyway... www.coroflot.com

12 Feb 2010

What is marketing innovation?

"Innovation is the transformation of ideas to value"... this is a concept being discussed by Mary Beth Kemp over at Forrester Research. She calls it her Innovation Conundrum.

I left a two-bit comment too... Read it here.

Space-time relativity in advertising

Outrageous Vintage Ads

Somehow, I don't think our ingenious advertising will look all clever and persuasive 20 years from now!

11 Feb 2010

Google Buzz: Why advertising may never be the same again

Google Buzz is as close to a perfect advertising platform as you can get.

There is so much content, profiling data, and spatial information to narrow down the context and relevance of an advertising message. In fact, it has the potential to be so perfectly aligned to a target that it would not even even look or feel like advertising!

It is out-of-context, irrelevant advertising that is obtrusive and annoying. But if a brand's messsge is relevant and in context, it would actually be welcome! Imagine you're at a mall and you get a message, saying: "'X' (a Gmail contact) is at Starbucks on Level 1." Is it even an ad anymore?

And since it's a social network and a geo-spatial network platform, WOM or adoption could potentially return exponential results! So ALL your friends in the area could land up at Starbucks!

Google Buzz, of course will not change advertising entirely. It would definitely be the most effective, but we'll still need entertainment and news to be paid-for by mostly out-of-context, irrelevant ads.

If Buzz picks up like I expect it will (because unlike Google Wave, the beauty of Buzz is that it is integrated into gmail!) Google could turn Nexus One into a Buzz-based 'mobile-social-internet device', where geo-tagging is replaced with GPS.

Of course, this is all just theoretical stuff...

10 Feb 2010

The end of the Internet as we know it?

I came across a very thought-provoking article on how the Internet is splintering. From login-protected no-go areas (much of which is outside the scope of Google's search engine); proprietory platforms, like Kindle, Blackberry, iPhone, and Android; incompatible apps meant for unique platforms like Blackberry or iPhones, or for social networks like Facebook or Twitter; and even varying screen formats of PCs, mobile devices and Tablets!

All this means that the whole look, feel and experience is highly dissimilar on different devices. And as the number of such devices increase (last week it was the iPad), we'll need to reconsider the way we view the entire Internet (which by the way, is an incorrect term as it refers to the physical network) as a single homogenous medium!

By Jove, he's right!

Buuut... a lot of techies and developers disagreed (although some were a little more vehement than others). Their contention is that the web is more integrated, compatible and following more 'open standards' than ever before. And that their work is making it even more so. They point to CMS, RSS feeds, W3C standards, and soon-to-be, HTML 5.0...

All this means that 'content' can indeed move across devices. Let's take the example of a viral video migrating from a mobile device, via Youtube on a PC to a Facebook page on an iPhone.

Hmmm, they're right too. Dang!

Ok, let's step back in time, say 5 years, and view it from a different angle... Is the Inter- sorry, the web more closed, fragmented and incompatible, or is it more open, integrated and seamless?

Of course, it's the latter.

But let's step a little further back in time, say the mid-1800s, when the Wild West, a new frontier was being settled. Fences first came up around the most productive patches of land. The web equivalent would be login/subscription around the better content online.

Up to now, content on web had been largely free. But now that this content is more in demand than that of, perhaps any other medium, it's owners (like, Rupert Murdoch of News Corp or Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook) will naturally look to monetize it - either through paid subscription or by advertising.

I don't know which, or if at all either, will be successful or how successful. My bet, for now, is on advertising - highly targetted location-specific, profile-based advertising - probably delivered via a mobile device.

But whatever happens, I am absolutely certain about one thing: The web, 10 years from now, will be different. For better, or for worse...

9 Feb 2010

Lessons from the world's biggest - and most profitable - ad agency

Lesson No.1: The 'what' never changes
In 2008, Google earned more than $4 billion in profits – with more than 95% of that coming from advertising tied to its search engine, AdWords. And, you need to pay only when someone actually clicks on the link. In essence, Google AdWords works by delivering a clear and relevant message. Period.

Well, the earliest ad agencies simply sold media space - often throwing in the message (copy) as a value add. Some still do!

Lesson No.2: The 'how' never stays the same
Vic Gundotra, VP of Engineering at Google, says: “We are seeing a very fundamental shift where increasingly, particularly among the young demographic and in Asian countries, the primary access to the internet is not through the PC, but through mobile devices."

Ironically, in an advertising agency somewhere right now, they are trying to concieve a complelling Print & TVC campaign for their brand, while twittering or updating their Facebook status on an iPhone. Or checking out a hilarious forwarded email on a Blackberry!

Lesson No.3: Being 'focused' can never go wrong.
Google’s innovative, uni-purpose search engine attract nearly two billion Internet searches worldwide. Everyday.

It's not a secret, or coincidence, that single-focus communications get better results.

Lesson No.4: Things 'change'. And how.
In 1998, Yahoo had a chance to buy Google. They turned it down. Now who'd have thought that an upstart like that...

Until yesterday, Advertising was thought of as 'necessary evil' because all our free 'entertainment', 'news' and 'infotainment' on TV, press and radio depended on it. Today, the internet has changed the rules.

Ad agency of the future... (or is there one?)

This post by Joseph Jaffe on The Agency of the Future also wrestles with question: 'What if you don't need an Ad Agency to do Advertising?'

"A radical sort of thought on the direction Advertising is headed..."
Joseph explains why Integration in its current form will almost always fail (and miserably at that, and offers up a new breed of agency.

What clients want


Here's what 277 key marketing decision makers from across the United States seemed to say: Marketers have consistently (for the past four years in our survey) stated that what they want in presentations (whether pitches or introductory meetings) is for the agency to showcase their understanding of the market - and their company - first and foremost. Obviously creative is key and so is presenting something fresh and new – but it all must be wrapped in sound strategy and a sound understanding of a client’s business.

And just in case you want a graph as proof... Here.

6 Feb 2010

Work-life balance, demystified

Not for one minute would I suggest that this is an easy, one-sided topic. So, to make a well-rounded argument, I'll look at it from the two perspectives we are wont to in Advertising - the rational, and the emotional.

First, the Rational Angle
You can't escape it. You are, literally what you do.

Across the world, most surnames trace their origin back to an occupation. Take the Western name, Smith derived from the word 'smite' or 'to strike', denoting one of the earliest skilled jobs - working with metals. Over 1% of the US population has this surname.

Or the Chinese name, Zang meaning 'Master of the Bow', denoting bow-makers and archers. Incidentlally, the 1990 edition of the Guinness Book of Records listed it as the world's most common surname.

Or take the Indian name, Patel derived from 'patlikh' or 'record keeper'. They were commonly appointed by feudal rulers as village chiefs who would record and collect a share of the crops. In the US, this surname ranks 174 among the Top 500 list of most common surnames. In the UK, it is the 24th most common surname. And in the Greater London region, the 3rd most common surname, with the 2nd most common being - well, what else, Smith!

Second, the Emotional Angle
The very fact that one is looking for a supposed balance between 'Life' and 'Work' implies - with due apologies to Kipling - that "Life is Life, and Work is Work, and ne'er the twain shall meet!"

A 10-hour workday is 63% of an average 16 waking hours in a day. So 63% of our waking life is spent doing ONE thing: Work. In my opinion, we had better LOVE our work - or life's going to be miserable anyway!

My work is Advertising. It is also my life.

To me it is a beautiful profession full of high thinking, human truths, lovely colours, fascinating words, and interesting people. It is never boring. In the span of a few hours, it has me empathising alternately, with the humdrum of a housewife's routine; the struggle of a blue-collar worker to define his identity; and the investment travails of a jetsetting CEO.

I love it that my work has the power to hold out a promise, a hope of something better... Fulfilment for the harried housewife; self-esteem for the common-man; and ego-stroking reassurance for the ones who have everything but contentment.

I know many people in Advertising - especially in Creative - who have dropped potentially lucrative careers to join the ranks of the overworked and the underpaid. Most of our mothers still don't understand our line of work - leave alone approve of it. But I am yet to see a single person in creative who regrets being part of it.

As in any profession, it has its ups and downs. So I think it's ok to vent some. An occasionally crib about the insane deadlines, the inept servicing partner, the irrational creative partner, the agency, the senior management, Sir Martin... It's all ok.

But the moment you stop loving your work, is the exact moment you stop having a 'Life'.

Big dream, not quite enough

If you must dream, dream an audacious rationality-defying impossibility.

Never let inane practicalities - like 'How am I going to do it' - hold you back. Remember, there is little we cannot do when we put our mind to it.

If the phrase "If you can dream it, you can do it" held true at any time in human history - it is now! The only thing that really matters is a colossally crazy idea.

The human race needs more brash, awe-inspiring ideas - and individuals.

Congratulations, Subbu!

3 Feb 2010

Zen in Advertising

I just realised that there may be three possible commonalities between Zen Buddhism and Advertising!

1. There is no absolute answer
An old Zen Buddhist saying goes: “If you meet the Buddha, kill him.”

And a relatively newer one (about 240 years old) goes: "Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand?"

These are called koans. How they are interpreted is really up to the reader/listener and the circumstance. As you probably guessed, they were meant to be provocative - but nowhere near rational.

At times, we think we've got it absolutely right; and we probably have. Then again, so does everyone else!

2. The means is the end
In Kendo and Kyudo, the Japanese martial arts of swordsmanship and archery, the ultimate aspiration is to become 'one with the weapon'. One master expressed it thus: "There is no sword outside the mind."

The emphasis on mastery is not over the weapon or the target. It is mastery over oneself. To attain a state of awareness wherein the answer presents itself.

There are no processes or formulae for doing it right. A rank amateur may hit the target. But only the expert has the benefit of intuition.

3. In the mundane, there is the sublime
Two monks stood watching a flag fluttering in the wind. One said to the other, "The flag is moving." The other replied, "The wind is moving."

A Zen master overheard them, and said, "Not the flag, not the wind; the mind is moving."

Hidden in the most routine, mind-numbing activity is something quite profound. The trick is to look for it.

Update: Wisdom in HTML

Success learns from success

Yesterday, I linked to 10 success stories in unheard-of sectors.

It was interesting, inspiring - and I would say instructive, as well. The following are a few things I found they had in common:

i.) They faced adversity with hard work and creativity.

ii.) When they saw that old ways can't solve new problems, they changed their business model.

iii.) They knew their business and their industry intimately.

iv.) They understood their own strength, and single-mindedly focussed on it. (Shriram Transport Finance is a superb example.)

v.) And (like ABC and Himadri), they were not coy about learning from others.

Stay low, fight hard

Advertising isn't glamorous. It is all hard work (at times, in brutal week-long spells) and ingenuity (a.k.a creativity).

It's learning. Unlearning. And then re-learning. Constantly. Everyday.

Yesterday, you were hawking a crossover SUV to women... emphasising how the specially-designed low rear-utility hatch made loading heavy grocery bags easier. Today, it's an investment product to HNIs (High Net-Worth Individuals)... where you expound the investment vehicles available for varying risk-appetites.

Advertising is fun? Not by a long shot.

As I never tire of saying: "Advertising is a B2B affair!" The solutions we think up are for business needs. The audience we communicate to is integral, but incidental - like ergonomics for an automobile engineer.

Sometimes I think the worst thing to happen to Advertising (besides the Computer and Account Planning) was for our business to somehow come be regarded as 'glamorous'. When advertising mavens began appearing more regularly on Page 3 than the business pages, I knew we were in for rough weather!

Now, at a time when ever more business leaders are stepping out of the boardrooms and into the limelight - even as the top businesses in virtually every major sector implode in violent maelstroms of greed and ego... the following list of 10 success stories based on plain ingenuity and, undoubtedly, resolute leadership by unheard-of entrepreneurs in India is breathtakingly refreshing. And inspiring.

Please dim the lights...

Ladies and gentlemen, I have the honour of presenting to you, 'Ten Success Stories In Unheard-of Sectors': http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/ten-success-storiesunheardsectors_439162-0.html

1 Feb 2010

The sound of geography dissolving...

In their words...
8 people with 5 instruments from 4 Continents speaking 3 languages for 1 song.

Brian at CAIN MOSNI thought of a cool concept and coordinated a virtual "jam session" with musicians from all over the world!

It's AMAZING what you can do nowadays!

If I may rephrase that...
It is pretty amazing what you can get when you bring together creativity, a powerful message, and today's communication technology.

Sounds like Advertising.